Steps are under way in Oklahoma and several other states to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.
Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, announced he is joining a taskforce to prevent so-called “anchor babies” – children who are born in the United States from parents who are illegal immigrants – from obtaining legal residence status and assistance from state-funded programs. Key said the taskforce would help him to consider whether to file or back legislation next session that would challenge the interpretation of the 14th Amendment.
“It goes to the real heart of the issue of the illegal alien situation that they are coming to the country to get benefits they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get,” he said. “They come here to have their children when they are pregnant so they can get benefits.”
Key said illegal immigrants are exploiting the U.S. Constitution. He argues the14th Amendment was not drafted with the intention of allowing citizenship to children of parents who enter the country illegally. He said this policy is attracting many illegal immigrants to the state, which he said costs Oklahoma taxpayers millions in payments for their education, health care and other benefits.
However, critics of the proposed law call the move offensive and unconstitutional.
Cesar Arambula, 22, who works at the Durago Mexican Store in Norman that is run by his parents, said he has seen first-hand how anti-immigration policies and rhetoric on the state level is creating a culture of fear in the Hispanic community.
“We see our customers who are affected and they tell us about how their mom or dad have been deported because of the policies,” he said adding that many legal immigrants have left voluntarily for fear of being hassled by the police or threatened to have state or federally funded programs taken away. “Some people are fed up with it and others are just scared.”
Arambula, who also serves in the U.S. Army, was born in Mexico but has lived in Oklahoma most of his life. He said living on both sides of the border gives him perspective of the pros and cons of the illegal immigration debate and the need for reforms. But he argues punishing children for something their parents did is not right.
Marvin G. Lizama, president of the Tulsa-based American Dream Coalition, called the possible legislation xenophobic at its core.
“It is a tremendously derogatory notion, that of all things, children who are defenseless should be punished for just being born,” he said. “Everyone who is born in the United States is a citizen, and that is one of the inalienable rights we have left. So you have to look at the motive of these politicians who are looking to get rid of illegal immigrants as just being they don’t want foreigners in their country and they don’t want children of foreigners in their country.”
Lizama, who also is a lawyer, said he does not see how the state has the legal authority to change the 14th Amendment or its application. He said any law the state potentially passes would be immediately challenged and struck down by the courts.
The 14th Amendment states that all people born or naturalized in the United States are citizens. It also says “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
Key admits a legal challenge would be likely if the state passed a law altering its enforcement or interpretation of the 14th Amendment. However, he said this might allow the judicial branch to examine the issue and eventually rule in favor of the bill because he argues the 14th Amendment is not being used the way it was designed.
Lizma said that even though he believes state legislators lack the power to change the country’s immigration policy, state lawmakers still could cause harm by pushing issues that target ethnic groups.
“When you have these xenophobic or racial tendencies it can be dangerous,” he said. “You are talking about describing or labeling an entire group of people as dangerous. It causes an average citizen ,when they see an individual foreigner, to first think they are an undocumented alien and then they think they are a criminal.”
Key is joining legislators in at least a dozen other states to challenge the 14th Amendment provisions on the state level. Members of the State Legislators for Legal Immigration announced this week the creation of the14th Amendment Citizens Model Committee that will develop model state legislation to “eliminate the misapplication” of the amendment.
“The misapplication of the 14th Amendment has incentivized foreign invaders to violate our border and our laws,” said the group’s founder, Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County. “Anchor babies are one of the principal reasons that illegals are crossing the border and costing American taxpayers $113 billion annually, or nearly $1,117 yearly per individual taxpayer. State legislators must join together to end this 21st Century abuse of children and our Constitution.”
Key said he likely would know in the next couple months if he will file legislation addressing the issue for next session. He said he couldn’t predict if the push will be successful, but he said Oklahoma is a good place to test the movement.
“We were a leader in passing illegal alien legislation a few years ago with (House Bill) 1804,” he said referring to the sweeping reforms passed in 2007. “So I think Oklahoma is a good place to see more reforms passed.”
Trevor Brown covers the Oklahoma statehouse for CNHI. He can be reached at email@example.com.